Helping Your People Develop Emotional Intelligence


Imagine that you've just hired a new team member to work on an important project. Jim was a star employee in his last organisation, and now he's joined your team.
Unfortunately, Jim is having a hard time learning some of the new skills he needs.

Jim is used to being able to do his job perfectly, and starting from the ground up in some areas is making him uncomfortable. Instead of becoming irritated or shutting him out, your people step up and increase their efforts to support Jim. They slow their pace to match his, they encourage questions, and they even stay late to help him finish some of his work on time. As a result, Jim's morale goes up, and he quickly becomes a high-performing member of the team.

For some leaders, this situation might sound too good to be true. But, if you're leading people with high emotional intelligence, this may sound like a natural and obvious way for people to behave.

By focusing on increasing your people's emotional intelligence, you can reap many benefits from improved teamwork. In this article, we'll look at what you can do to help your team members develop this important quality.

The Many Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, also called EI, is partly the ability to recognise and control your own emotions, and understand what those emotions are telling you. EI also means that you can recognize the emotional wants and needs of others and respond appropriately. Put simply, EI determines your self-awareness and your people skills.

EI is necessary for building trust, creating a sense of identity and efficacy, solving problems with others, cooperating, and participating productively in a group.
When emotionally intelligent people work together, they have the ability to sweep aside minor conflicts in order to focus on the team's interests. They can deal well with more serious conflicts, and they can grow from any disagreements that may arise.

While it's possible for people without emotional intelligence to "go through the motions" and experience some of these benefits, they ultimately lack the trust that comes with high EI. This means that they can't realize their full potential as individuals, or work well within a group.

Research suggests that there are many important benefits of EI. For example, a study published in The Leadership Quarterly shows that people who have high EI perform better and experience more job satisfaction than those with lower EI.

Furthermore, when people with high EI come together as a group, there are numerous benefits. A study published in The International Journal of Organizational Analysis found, as you might expect, that EI competencies were positively correlated with team cohesiveness. Another study, published in the Human Resources Management Review, found that teams with higher EI perform better, quicker, than teams with lower EI. EI really matters!

Building Emotional Intelligence

EI might sound as if it's something you're born with. However, research shows that you can develop your team's emotional intelligence, even in just a few hours.

Start with Yourself

One of the best ways to help your people develop EI is to lead by example. So, start by making sure that you're leading with emotional intelligence. This means staying aware of your own thoughts and feelings, and managing them, so that you affect other people positively.

Communicate the Benefits

Your team members might be more open to developing their EI if you communicate the benefits that they can expect.

For example, sales professionals who have higher Emotional Intelligence often achieve better sales than colleagues with lower EI; professionals with higher EI typically have a higher income and experience greater job stability throughout their life; and, high EI makes work and professional relationships more rewarding.

Let your team members know how developing their EI will benefit them, both personally and professionally.

Develop Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the most important aspect of EI. People who are self-aware understand their own thoughts and emotions, as well as understanding how their actions affect others around them.

Encourage your team members to keep a daily journal – even writing for just five minutes a day can help people develop self-awareness.

You can also help team members build self-awareness by asking for their opinions on decisions – this is especially important for quieter people, who might not speak up that often. When you ask about a team member's thoughts and feelings, it makes them stop and examine how they really feel about an issue, and this can lead to increased self-awareness over time.

It's also important to set aside time to talk about difficult situations or issues, and to address the resulting emotions. This can take place one-on-one, or informally over lunch. The more you encourage your team members to open up and talk about what they're thinking and feeling, the more likely they are to develop self-awareness.

Strengthen Communication

People with high EI typically have excellent communication skills. Develop better communication in your team by teaching people to understand body language.
Good communication also means knowing how to deal with negative emotions. Give your team avenues for "venting" negative emotions – or frustrations about setbacks – in a constructive way.

For example, if people are upset, set aside five minutes of each meeting for complaints and frustrations, and let your team know that their criticisms won't be frowned upon. You can keep this light-hearted by using a stopwatch; when five minutes are up, then your team members should move on and focus on an action item, or something that they can control. Try to create fun ways to acknowledge and deal with stress or tension.

Another important and often overlooked communication tool is listening. Teach everyone on your team to use active listening skills, and to respect other people when they're speaking. When people are obviously not listening, call them out on their behaviour.

Last, if you think that your group doesn't discuss and analyse decisions fully, make sure that you question decisions and avoid Groupthink. Play devil's advocate and force a discussion about the issue at hand. Ask why everyone is agreeing, and, again, encourage quieter team members to speak up.

Build Optimism

The ability to think positively is an important part of EI. You can help your people think positively by stopping self-sabotaging behaviour or statements. For instance, if you hear someone say "I'm not very good at writing reports," or "I'll never be able to make a presentation in front of the group!" remind them of their strengths and thank them for the good work that they're doing.

Keep in mind that positive thinking doesn't mean ignoring bad news and avoiding issues. It means acknowledging bad news and rationally deciding how to handle it, as well as searching for the good in each situation and learning from every mistake.

Encourage Healthy Conflict

People with high EI know how to engage in conflict in a healthy way, where everyone's perspective is respected when they communicate their views. This type of conflict can strengthen people individually and within a group, and can lead to personal growth.

Teach your people good conflict resolution skills. Make it clear that conflicts should never get personal, and that whoever "has the floor" gets the full attention of everyone else in the room. Set ground rules, so that everyone knows what is and isn't fair behaviour.

Set Specific Learning Goals

Your team members will have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their own EI. For example, some people might be poor communicators, others might have little self-awareness, and some might be lacking in empathy.

First, help each person discover their strengths and weaknesses. You can do this by performing a personal SWOT Analysis. It may be necessary to provide extra support and guidance for team members with low EI, as they may have low self-reflection.

Next, set clear, specific goals to help each person work on their weaknesses. For example, one person might be a poor listener, so, his goal could be to use active listening techniques four times per week for the next four weeks. Personalised goals like this will keep each person motivated.

Last, make sure that you provide constructive feedback on each person's progress, but remember to do this sensitively for team members who may have low EI. A word of encouragement or a helpful observation will go a long way in keeping your team members motivated and moving forward.

Key Points

Emotional intelligence, or EI, is the awareness of your thoughts and emotions, as well as of the emotional wants and needs of the people around you.
Research shows that people with high EI are often more satisfied with their work, have better work relationships, and experience higher productivity than people with lower EI.

You can help your team members develop their EI if you help them strengthen their communication skills, think positively, and engage in conflict in a healthy way. It's also essential to lead by example.


Originally published in Mindtools

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